What if robots become "soft"

Existing robots are hard and have limited flexibility. But what are soft and flexible as robots, like the grippers pioneers at TU Delft are developing. This flexibility makes all kinds of new applications possible. A Dutch pioneer is Rob Scharff, PhD student at Delft University of Technology. If you build soft, flexible robots, all kinds of new applications are within reach.

Daniela Rus, Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at the American research institute MIT. Soft robots broaden our view of what a robot is. Much more diversity is possible. Not only in terms of shapes, but also in terms of materials.

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Small robots in our body

MIT made a primitive 'origami robot' from pork, from the same material that wraps sausages. This device, a few centimetres in size, can unfold in the body after swallowing. There it can perform simple operations, such as covering a wound, like a remotely controlled meat plaster. This control is still done with a magnet outside the body; there is a piece of metal on it that you can use to pull the robot cloth. Ultimately, the institute wants to equip such meat robots with sensors and drives, so that they can roam around independently.

Flexible and soft

A flexible robot that bends instead of bursting is further ideal for searching for survivors between debris in disaster areas, or exploring difficult to walk on areas like narrow caves, continues Russian. And if care robots are introduced, which for example assist people with showering, it is nice if they are not full of hard and angular parts.

Technological challenge

Soft robots have one big problem: they have no idea where their body parts are. For stiff robots this is simple,' he says. If you know the angle of a hinge, you can calculate the position of a finger. This is not possible with soft robots, as a finger can bend in any direction. Last November, researchers at Cornell-University in New York presented another 'self-aware sponge'. He knows exactly how much you knead or bend it thanks to a network of luminous glass fibres, whose pattern changes measurably when the shape of the sponge changes.

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